On room for dreams

Date : 01/01/2019
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I have not been posting for a very long while!

This autumn has been full of big changes and it takes time to adjust. The changes have been consious decisions and all is good. I have moved to Sweden again after seven years in Denmark and now live in the pictoresque, historical town Vadstena. Note, I say moving again and not moving back, since you never can go back… Time and life goes forward and all is new, if you want it to.

This blog post is about the first painting I have made since August. Now a new year is here! I call the work Room for Dreams.

It is about the important choices we can make, as artists, in order to create what we want. But – it also goes for everyone, artist or not. Decisions, big or small… This is how life itself works – small but important decisions will change your life, in the direction of your dreams, if you wish…

We need to dream and wish… but then to allow them to give us the power to make changes happen to aline us with them. That is an act of will power and if not used, the dreams can become negative, making us victims and low in spirit. It is a question of consiously aligning dreams with reality, or letting them separate us from it. Both dreams and reality exist in the flow of time, tangible or not. Yet. Working with my latest painting Room for Dreams has given room for thoughts. The title works on three planes (or more?): the actual subject as a picture from someone’s dream, also showing a place and atmosphere to sit and dream away and it is a metaphor for dreaming as such. It also shows the forest and what once was made from it (chair, window, door…), thus transformation by will force and conscious decisions.

Room for dreams. 37x35 cm (14,8x14") dec. 2018. 350€

Room for Dreams 38×35 cm (14,8×14″)

On a walk in the forest on a hot summer’s day, I walked by an old cottage, a place that seemed to be somehow looked after, but at the same time abandoned. So I stepped up close to peek through the window. It was beautiful and so tranquil inside, as if time had stopped some seventy years ago. I wanted a photo of the interior but it was impossible because of the strong reflections on the glass from the sunny forest behind. I took a photo anyway, just for my memory. Now, in mid winter, I found it and was drawn to it. This could be used as painting subject! I cropped it to make a nice composition and then started to think of how I could technically go about it.

This kind of subject is not just to splash around – it needs some time for studying and making decisions on colours, on layers, on techniques. My way of painting is often that way and I like the combination of analysis and spontaneity. I think and then I let go, like a breathing through the work, step by step.

Here the important thing was to create a dreamy atmosphere, thus keeping it high key, soft and harmonious. The main decisions needed to be about colour scheme and how and where to create contrast (focus) in such a picture, so that it could become interesting and not just flat.

Room for dreams, first layers.

Room for Dreams, first layers. The bottom part was cropped by the end, because I  didn’t succeed in creating what I wanted.

The two colours where to be green and warm brown, with lots of grey shades mixed by them. The colours should not be shouting out loud, but stay back in the story, just creating atmosphere. The greens should be light and rather bright. I used lemon yellow and ultramarine blue. I was not keen on granulations here, but by keeping the washes very thin, I avoided that tendency from the blue pigment. Also very little was used, to keep the colour light. Cobalt blue is brighter, but I find it a bit dull and too compact for the purpose here. I toned the greens down by adding a little permanent rose or alizarin.

The warm brown was mixed of yellow ochre, alizarin crimson and a little burnt umber. During the painting process I dipped my brush also into some other pigments, but these were the main one’s.

I added some very little blue for the table cloth to create interest. I used a thin phtalo blue red shade and then a purple mix of ultramarine and alizarin. It is a very small area, but important, since it was standing out from all the rest.

I decided not to use masking fluid for preserving whites, to avoid too many sharp ‘undreamy’ shapes in the forest and painted those parts more with dabbing and softening and layering instead. It was tricky, but should not have detail or focus, so it helped.

I payed attention to the very bright area of the window. It was the only part I drew with pencil in the beginning. This was where the strong contrasts should be and I slowly added to the shapes until satisfied, keeping the overall picture in mind and that the edges where not too sharp, nor too soft.

I belive this kind of work could have been painted in a more realistic way and by completing an area at a time, but then it would probably not give the strong dreamy feeling.

The overall look is warm, since this is about good dreams and not nightmares. Therefore I payed much attention to the grey mixes, to keep them warm. I do love mixing greys! So little makes big changes, warm or cold, light or dark, reddish, greenish, blueish… all small shifts make an impact.


On portraying a birch tree

Category : Trees
Date : 04/03/2018
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In spring, seven years ago I was visiting the pictoresque Baskemölla on Swedish southeast coast. On a meadow very close to the sea, I met this stunning old birch tree on a carpet of snow white wood anemones and fresh spring green grass. Now I found a photo and started to do a portrait of it. Here I share some observations and reflexions while working. Further down I explain the more technical part. The photos are not very good… The finished work shall get scanned later, but here we go – I hope you enjoy!

So – what defines the birch?

Everyone recognizes the birch by the smooth silvery bark, but also, unlike most trees, this tree follows no rules for dividing and branching out – I can’t think of any more irregular tree crowns than those. Just bursting out branches here and there! But somehow it still creates a harmonious shape around the edge. The leaves are very small and it is necessary with soft and very finely divided twigs, that easily dance in the breeze, to make the light reach and be able to kiss all those chlorophyll cells…

A birch portrait. Graphite drawing and plant pigment watercolour on Bockingford paper, 56x38 cm (22,4x15,2") 2018. 470€
A birch portrait. Detail. Graphite drawing and plant pigment watercolour.
Birch leaf study. Pure plant pigment. 14x19 cm (5,6x7,6") Birchleaves arranged as a birch leaf. Pure plant pigment. 19x19 cm (7,6x7,6") on Bockingford 300gsm 2017.
Dry birch leaves, in the shape of a birch leaf. Pure plant pigment watercolour. 15x15 cm (6x6") on Bockingford paper 2017.

The magic with nature I find, is the awesome combination of uniqueness and conformity. We easily recognize a birch tree from others and a birch leaf from others, but still, every tree and leaf is unique and individual. I remember once reading a scientific rapport that measured birch leaves – no single one is the same as another!

In summer the birch looks so light, bright and airy, but in winter the crown is rather dense and it casts quite a shadow, because of all the fine twigs. The opposite in this respect could be the maple.

The wood is bright and has lots of energy stored, making it an excellent fuel. The bright silvery bark shoots up like rays of light in dark coniferous forests and at forest edges. It is very hardy and thrives well also where winters are severe.

This particular birch is exposed to strong winds from the Baltic sea in the east, but is very sheltered from the west. This is why the branches on the left side are so short. But still, look at the top! In it’s unique birch manner, it defies the forces from the winds. Normally that is where this ‘wind pruning’ normally is the strongest.

Observations like these, resonate inside of me when while I work. I find that the birch is showing the way into the future for us humans – be individual, be unique, be resilient, be soft and receptive but strong inside. Strong inner flame…

I don’t get too serious when I do artwork though… I also fell curious and have fun and get amazed when the picture emerges. Here I felt like a little bird, skipping around on the branches and twigs.

The process

I wanted to do a precise detailed tree portrait with graphite and then paint on some watercolour. So I chose watercolour paper and Bockingford, since it has such a crispness and a surface that is not so vulnerable for erasing. I chose a half sheet, meaning 56×38 cm (22,4×15,2″). I did the drawing directly on this paper. I had printed the photo as A4 size, reversed into black and white. I made no lines, just marked out squares around the edges of both photo and paper. On the working sheet they were approximately 8 cm (3,5″) wide. I layed out strips of transfer paper on both photo and paper to separate the square I should work on. This way every square became for me a piece of artwork by itself and was interesting to work on and it was amazing to see the tree emerge on the paper, square by square.

I started on top with paper upside down, to get a good working position. When all that was done, I went back to add more detail and also more graphite until it felt like enough. I mainly used a 2B pencil, by the end also some 6B and even 8B.

Time for some colour! I chose my homemade watercolour paints. The black pigment is simply finely crushed charcoal. The brown pigment is from the bark of a Southamerican tree called quebracho, a warm reddish brown. The paint was layered on carefully and slowly with dry brush technique and a thin chinese brush. I left the low right parts unfinished and unpainted.

I have never before used so many hours painting such small amounts of watercolour paint …

A birch portrait, work in progress, the finished graphite drawing, before starting to add paint.
A birch portrait, work in progress, the finished graphite drawing, detail.
A birch portrait, work in progress, starting to paint watercolour on drawing.

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